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Giants' resurgent rotation among 10 May takeaways

Bradley's hit streak, Harper's walks and Colon's homer also impressive
May 31, 2016

We have entered the month that signifies the start of summer, the month when the heat kicks on and the ball flies further and every team tries to avoid that dreaded "swoon" that satisfies in rhyme but not in reason.But we couldn't have gotten here without May. You were good

We have entered the month that signifies the start of summer, the month when the heat kicks on and the ball flies further and every team tries to avoid that dreaded "swoon" that satisfies in rhyme but not in reason.
But we couldn't have gotten here without May. You were good to us, May. You rescued us from April's obscurities and anomalies and gave us a more mature understanding of what this 2016 season entails. You taught us many things.
Here are 10 things May taught us.
1. The Giants did, indeed, improve their rotation.
That they had spent to improve their rotation was not in question. But there was no way to be sure Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija -- the club's new, expensive arrivals to the starting five fronted by Madison Bumgarner -- would pay off. Cueto had an erratic 2015, while the Shark was one of the Majors' worst-performing qualifiers.
But in May, Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija combined to go 12-2 with a 1.73 ERA, striking out 124 and walking just 29.
There are other reasons the Giants, who were under .500 as recently as May 10, have suddenly built themselves a little cushion atop the National League West, but it all started with this group.

2. Bryce Harper is having a ball.
And we don't mean that in a good way.
In April, 42.8 percent of the pitches thrown to Harper were in the strike zone, per FanGraphs' data. In May, it was just 36.1 percent -- the lowest such percentage among qualified hitters. And while all those balls succeeded in keeping Harper's on-base percentage at an elite level (Harper memorably walked 13 times in a three-game series with the Cubs and six times in a single game), the rest of his numbers cratered.
Harper had trouble doing damage against what few strikes he saw, batting just .200 with a .363 slugging percentage in 28 May games before getting hit by a pitch (a strike of a different sort) in the knee on Memorial Day.
In short, there was a major change in approach to Harper in May, and, for now, it is working quite well.

3. Clayton Kershaw has never been better.
And that's a high bar, of course. But here's all you need to know about Kershaw's month: He had fewer walks allowed (two) than he had hits -- of his own -- at the plate (three)!
Oh, and Kershaw had three shutouts, too.
In six May starts, Kershaw allowed five runs on 24 hits with a .354 opponents' OPS. It was the kind of month that makes him all the more prominent in the Greatest of All-Time discussion.

4. Don't book the Red Line World Series just yet.
For one, the Cubs are no longer on the 125-win pace that they were at the end of April. But more meaningfully, things went south on the South Side, where the White Sox went an American League-best 17-8 in the season's opening month, only to lose 15 of 19 in one stretch of May to lose their grip on the top spot in the AL Central.
A lot of that can be attributed to regression from the bullpen, which had a Major League-best 1.69 ERA in April and then a 4.85 mark in May, and the surprising season-long struggles of Jose Abreu, which seem to have finally caught up to the offense.
Because of their dynamic 1-2 punch atop the rotation (Chris Sale and Jose Quintana) and their improved defense, the Sox can turn things back around as quickly as they went south. But you won't find many clubs happier to turn this particular page in the calendar.

5. You are significantly more likely to witness a 20-strikeout game if Brad Ausmus is involved.
There have been just five 20-strikeout, nine-inning games in the long, crazy history of Major League Baseball, and Ausmus has been in attendance for three of them. He was Detroit's starting catcher when Roger Clemens struck out 20 Tigers in 1996, Houston's starting catcher when Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros in '98 and Detroit's manager when Max Scherzer struck out 20 Tigers on May 11.

And as a bonus, attending a game involving Ausmus also increases your odds of seeing a hoodie draped over home plate.
Gif: Brad Ausmus freaking out
6. Jackie Bradley Jr. is not an "all-field, no-hit" type.
We saw some signs of that last August, but leave it to a 29-game hitting streak to get people to truly realize how much your offensive game has grown. Bradley has taken on a more aggressive approach, and, at the same time, been fooled by fewer offspeed pitches. That's helped him cut down on K's, put more balls in play and let his legs do the rest. Bradley has helped lengthen a Red Sox lineup that is currently unquestionably the most formidable in the game.

7. And neither, it turns out, is Leonys Martin.
The Mariners' trade with the division-rival Rangers to get Martin was a bid to get more athletic and defensively dependable in the outfield. Who would have thought he'd hit five homers in the month of May, including a walk-off winner against the A's on May 24?
Robinson Cano's resurgence became evident in April, but now Martin has surprisingly lengthened an M's lineup that spent May averaging north of five runs per game. Suddenly, there's a legit contender in Seattle, a place that hasn't seen playoff baseball since 2001.

8. The Royals are resilient as ever.
Because the Royals have routinely proven themselves to be a team that defies logic or predictive analysis, let's just stick to the facts.
Kansas City entered May at 12-11 and was 6 1/2 games back in the AL Central as recently as the morning of May 15.
Mike Moustakas got hurt. Alex Gordon got hurt. Salvador Perez got hurt. Guys named Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert and Brett Eibner -- previously known as "Who? What? and Huh?" -- began to infiltrate the lineup.
The Royals left May in first place. Because of course they did.

9. The Marlins were right to hold onto Marcell Ozuna.
Last season was ugly. Ozuna struggled and got sent down to Triple-A New Orleans, which he called "a jail." There was rampant speculation -- expectation, even -- that he would be moved in the offseason.
Instead, Ozuna stayed put, and in his first 28 games of May, he logged a .422 average and a 1.182 OPS with seven homers, eight doubles and two triples. That Barry Bonds is a miracle worker, I tell ya.

10. When Bartolo Colon hits a home run, the Internet breaks.
Twitter erupted with reaction to Colon's beautiful blast at Petco Park. Furthermore, Topps Now's limited-edition card commemorating the moment, which was available for only 24 hours, sold 8,826 units at $9.99 a pop, shattering the company's previous sales record, which was the 1,808 sales of a card featuring Jake Arrieta's April no-hitter.
Big Bart: Improving the economy one swing at a time.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.